If you have worked in healthcare for more than a few years, you have probably seen at least one crisis develop in your facility. Although every incident can become a crisis, there are some that happen that can have lasting effects for the facility and everyone it touches. Crises can be from a natural disaster, human error, regulatory non-compliance, to equipment failure. All have the consequences of affecting human lives to negatively impacting the institution both financially and its reputation. What is common to all of these situations are how you and your team react to them. I have found common steps to ensure that you can react quickly, efficiently, and minimize the negative effects.
- Policies and Procedures – All too often, leadership recognizes that a crisis can happen, but few believe it can happen to them. Because of this denial, many leaders may read the administrative policies and procedures when they first come on board, and never review or update them at least annually. It is extremely important to know your crisis plans and review them annually. The time to become familiar with you plan is not in the middle of a crisis.
- Drill, drill, drill – The old saying, practice makes perfect is critical in the middle of a crisis. Practicing not only a disaster drill such as a fire or bomb threat, but also when JCAHO or the State comes in for an unannounced visit will go a long way to putting calm in the chaos. When everyone knows their role in the plan, everything goes much smoother. In addition, outsiders, such as inspectors or even the public, will gain a sense of calm and confidence in your team if everyone reacts according to the plan.
- Be the leader – If you are the one responsible for leading the institution, everyone will be looking to you for clues on how to react. If you seem rattled or unsure, your staff will also be rattled and unsure. If you present confidence and surety, the actions of your team will also demonstrate the same. If you are familiar with the plan and follow it, the crisis will play out more favorably than if you are unsure of your and your team’s role.
- Trust your team – They are there for a reason and should be experts in their roles. If you have practiced drills and ensured competence during a time of crisis, your team needs the space to do their job. Let them. It will go a long way to resolving the issue and building trust for the future.
- Communicate openly and honestly – There is a time and place to communicate what is going on in the facility, but when you do, and I recommend the leader of the facility being the spokesperson, being as open and transparent as possible can help stop rumors and defuse a potential media frenzy. The same message must be transmitted through all channels whether that is media, memos, or social media. Different messages will create confusion and distrust.
- Update often – If the crisis is one day, one week, or ongoing, keep everyone updated. A lack of communication will be filled with rumor and innuendo.
- Finally, debrief – When the crisis has passed, perform a thorough analysis of what happened and institute corrective measures.
You will experience a crisis in your institution. How you prepare and act during the crisis will define you as much as your success or failures as a leader.